Oklahoma City has a 25-year-old Russell Westbrook and a 25-year-old Kevin Durant. Los Angeles has a 24-year-old Blake Griffin and a 28-year-old Chris Paul. The primes for the Thunder two coincide; the primes for the Clippers duo do not. This is of prime importance when it comes to the timing of the push. Working on the assumption that the Clippers and Thunder both only have one such one- to two-year luxury tax bullet to fire — based on their never having paid the luxury tax before, and previous spending cuts, it is hard to conclude anything greater than that — the question becomes, when do they fire it?
While it is by only a small amount, small enough that they can still realistically get under it without losing any of the significant talents that make them competitive, the Clippers are nevertheless due to pay luxury tax this season for the first time in their history. They are doing so because they have the best point guard in the sport, at a time when he is as good as he is ever going to get. Channeling the aforementioned logic of being mandated to push when you have an MVP, which Chris Paul could well be, the Clippers have taken him on and still continued to build a team, doing so without the stinginess of Clippers teams of the past. Los Angeles has a legitimate championship contender for the first time in their franchise history, and thus they have their first ever what we might term "extraspending" window. When taken along with Paul's age, they would be foolish not to fire that bullet right now.
This proactivity also has the side effect of what it means for the second window, one which will open with Blake Griffin's prime. Griffin has an early termination option after the 2016-17 season, when he will be 28 years old and, barring disaster, at his best. As a maximum salary player, his price tag is not the bit that needs any negotiating — the Clippers need to sell Blake on their viability as a competitive, inviting team. That sales pitch began on the day he was drafted and continues to this very day. Griffin only has incentive to re-sign with the Clippers if the Clippers can prove (or at least strongly suggest) that doing so will give him the best chance at a title. As we have explored in previous pieces, loyalty can be bought with money, but it is best bought through success. Paying tax now is hugely important to this.
Perception of success, determination and winning comes through spending, and players who can afford to be picky value these perceptions strongly. Dwyane Wade reminded us of this when he briefly hit the market back in 2010, when he spoke of how loyalty plays a part in a player's decision to stay or switch. Loyalty and commitment can be demonstrated through spending — it follows that the more you spend, the more you are prepared to do to win, the more you can offer your players. In finally touching the tax, the Clippers finally start to send this message. It will be a strong message, should they follow through with it. And it is one they surely must do. If they cannot pay when they have a prime Chris Paul, then pleas to the extent of "stick with us, Blake, we'll do what it takes to win" seem painfully hollow.
Perhaps, then, the very existence of the second window is dependent upon the management of the first.